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Take in The Takeout
The Takeout by acclaimed author and attorney Tracy Badua hits bookshelves on May 9th.
It’s her latest middle-grade book, which follows a twelve-year-old girl named Mila, who struggles to fit in after moving to a new town. However, Mila finds comfort in helping at a Filipino-Indian fusion food truck called The Banana Leaf, which is co-owned by her Filipino-American father and his Indian-American friend, Mr. Ram. When Fab Foodie Brothers, a celebrity chef duo, suddenly appear with their own food truck and have the same menu as The Banana Leaf, Mila realizes she must find a solution. This entails alienating herself from her newfound friends.
Can Mila maintain a balance between her family and her friends? Or, does she have to pick one or the other?
Kaashvi Mittal interviewed Tracy Badua to find out more.
KM: What was the inspiration behind your story?
TB: Writing The Takeout was a fun way for me to combine my two favorite pastimes: storytelling and food! Having peeled apart hundreds of lumpia wrappers and stirred up pan after pan of mochiko cake as a kid, I knew I wanted to write something where the character’s love of their family and their family’s cuisine shine. Aside from nourishment and the sheer joy of sharing meals with family and friends, food also carries a cultural element to it, and I wanted to explore that in my book too. The main character, Mila, is a twelve-year-old who spends much of her time helping at The Banana Leaf, the Filipino Indian fusion food truck co-owned by her Filipino American father and his Indian American best friend. She’s proud of their small truck and its unique recipes, which makes it all the more stressful when a celebrity-chef-owned restaurant pops up with suspiciously similar dishes.
KM: Mila, the main character, becomes more connected to her Filipino traditions – is there a reason why you took the Filipino angle for this story?
TB: I’m Filipino American, and my husband is Indian American. I am so lucky to live close to my mother-in-law as well, whose delicious cooking provided much of the inspiration and research opportunities for the food in this book. I also have a dear friend whose family owns a fantastic Indian restaurant in Houston, Texas, and who graciously provided feedback on the food, terminology, and restaurant operation portions of my book. I only hope that my efforts at fictional Filipino Indian fusion food does both cultures justice.
KM: Why did you decide to focus this story on food trucks and recipes? Is there a cultural significance behind that?
TB: Food is a great way to connect people from different cultures, and when we cook up a family recipe and serve each other, it often feels like we’re sharing a piece of ourselves as well. So when some of the people in Mila’s new town don’t love the food her father and his business partner serve–food from recipes she helped create–part of her takes it personally. She wonders, “Does this mean they don’t like me?”
KM: Mila struggles in her relationships with her friendships, especially after taking a more involved role in taking down Fab Foodie Brothers. How did you find the characters of these stories? Are these characters based on anyone? And, specifically, is there a reason why you made Mila someone who struggled to fit in in her new environment?
TB: My television is almost always on food or home renovation reality shows, and so I pulled some of the themes and even personality quirks from people on the screen. My characters are still entirely fictional though; there aren’t a pair of possibly-evil celebrity chef twins out there (as far as I know). For the cover art, I did send along a picture of my husband’s hair, as inspiration for the curly look of Ajay, the Indian American nephew of the food truck co-owner. In The Takeout, Mila loves her family’s food and is always trying to find creative ways to showcase it at the truck. However, she – like a lot of us who, years ago, were sent to school with home-cooked lunches that weren’t pizza or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches– still remains nervous that other people won’t appreciate the strong, delicious flavors like she does. I wanted to use food to explore that feeling in the story. Mila was born and raised in the United States, but she finds that there are still parts of herself that others find too Filipino, too different. It’s this struggle of balancing two cultures that I think many young readers may relate to.
KM: I noticed that the food truck is “Filipino-Indian.” Is Mila both Filipino and Indian? If she is, why did you choose to make a character with a very unique identity? Does Mila explore both of her identities throughout this story, or mainly associate with her Filipino one?
TB: Mila and her family are Filipino American. Mr. Ram, her father’s business partner, and his nephew Ajay are Indian American. I chose to make Mila Filipino American because that’s the identity I most related with. While I’m sure there are a number of similar experiences that we, as ethnic minorities in the US, share in our everyday lives, I wanted to tell the story I knew best.
KM: I also wanted to know a little bit more about your time writing it. What was the process for creating and developing this story? Were there any things you struggled with as you wrote it?
TB: Once I have an idea for a story, I always start with an outline, to get a broad sense of the characters and their journeys. For The Takeout, one of the hardest parts of writing it was crafting the parts of the story involving a rodent. I won’t spoil anything further, but I am not a fan of rodents at all, so spending time thinking about one wasn’t too fun.
KM: Do you have any books coming up soon? Any new projects you are working on?
TB: My next novel, We’re Never Getting Home is a contemporary story for young adults and is slated for Winter 2024 with Quill Tree Books. We’re Never Getting Home follows two ex-best friends who begrudgingly end up sharing a ride to an outdoor music festival, only to have their driver lose his keys while crowd surfing.
The Takeout: An excerpt
Here’s a sneak peek at the novel.
People say that home is where the heart is, but that’s a lie. Home is where the stomach is. And my home is at the Banana Leaf, the best food truck in all of Coral Beach, California.
I switch off the blender. “Two turon lassis, coming right up!”
I wanted to call my signature drink the Mila Special. But Dad and Mr. Ram, Dad’s best friend and business partner, thought “turon lassi” would remind customers more of the deep-fried Filipino snack and the refreshing yogurt drink from India. Even though my name sounds better, I let this one go. They technically own the food truck, after all. I’ve just lived, worked, and breathed in it since school let out for the summer.
I hand one plastic cup to Elle, a girl from my new school who’s been coming by twice a week for our lassis. I’d sat next to her when I first shuffled into the classroom in February, and even though she’s friendly, I’m not sure she considers me a real friend yet. Oh, the joys of transferring mid–school year.
Elle’s part of the Seashell Squad, a tight-knit group of four girls who have been friends almost since birth. Last year, other kids started referring to them as the Seashells because of their matching friendship bracelets, complete with shells dangling from them. They thought it was funny and embraced the name.
Next to Elle, another Seashell, Karina, balances on her retro blue bike and squints out at the beach. She didn’t order anything.
“Thanks, Mila!” Elle says as she pulls out her phone. She snaps a picture of her drink against the background of our truck.
It’s hard not to swell with pride. I helped come up with the truck design. The Banana Leaf is glossy red, with yellow trim around the windows. I painted the lush green banana trees all over the back: totally photo-worthy. I got so many likes and texts from my friends back in Los Angeles when we unveiled the truck on social media.
I almost hand the second turon lassi to another customer when I notice something off about her. She’s an older teen with brown hair that looks like it hasn’t been brushed and red all around her puffy eyes. She sniffles on the phone. “We were supposed to spend the summer together! And he breaks up with me?”
A broken heart? I remember my sister’s latest breakup. I don’t wish that kind of misery on anyone. Luckily, I may have a fix for this, at least a temporary one. If I can get it to work.
When the girl reaches for her drink, I hold it back slightly. I wave her closer so I can speak without the adults overhearing, then regret it when she sniffles right in my ear.
“I might have an all-natural potion that can help ease the heartache,” I whisper, “but you have to keep it secret.” I tilt my head toward Dad and Mr. Ram, the universal sign for “from these guys.”
She lowers her phone. “All-natural? So it’s not a drug or anything?”
I shake my head. “It’s more like a tea: a bunch of herbs and roots steeped so they’re super-concentrated. It’s prepared by Filipino folk healers.”
“Non-Western medicine? Cool. I saw an infographic about that. Sure, I’ll try anything to get that jerk out of my mind.”
I reach inside my enamel-pin-covered blue messenger bag and feel around for a small glass bottle, keeping an eye out to make sure Dad and Mr. Ram don’t see. They wouldn’t love the idea of magicking a customer’s food. Dad didn’t even approve of me adding double-washed (as opposed to triple-washed) cilantro to a customer’s dish, for fear that someone might get a stomach bug and blame the truck.
But there’s nothing to worry about with these blends.
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